800km range says this may very well be the future.
This year’s been a big year for the semi-trailer truck market, which was very recently taken by surprise by Toyota’s ‘Project Portal,’ which took the hydrogen fuel-cell system from the Toyota Mirai and scaled it up to the size of a big-rig. And while you may be mistaken unto thinking it’s just a feasibility study, it really isn’t, as they’re already doing duty around the Port of Los Angeles, emitting only water vapour in the process.
But it appears that the reality of smokey big trucks may be coming to an end soon as Tesla unveiled its ‘Semi’ this week, at perhaps the only commercial vehicle unveiling event in the world to feature trance music and all the glamour of an Apple launch. Unlike that tech company though, Tesla brought forward what’s being considered a game-changer in the segment, with a Class-8 heavy-duty commercial vehicle with all of the innovative technologies we’ve come to expect from its passenger cars.
For starters, the all-electric Tesla Semi is capable of a driving range slightly north of 800km on a full charge, which Tesla claims is double the distance of 80% of trips made with big rigs. Further, thanks to the masses of torque available from its four engines (mounted on the two rear axles of the rig) means that it can maintain a steady 105km/h speed with a full load driving up a 45º incline, while a diesel truck would only be able to manage about 72km/h (no more cursing behind trucks, perhaps).
While Tesla CEO Elon Musk was quick to point out that the trucks’ range would effectively allow it to be driven to its destination and back on a single charge, he also pointed out that the Semi could be recharged with 640km of range in a 30-minute charge, something easily achievable during a break at a service station. What might not be immediately obvious is the Semi’s unconventional seating position, which is right in the middle of the cab, with a passenger’s seat mounted at a 5-o’clock position from the driver.
That central position, Tesla claims, offers unrivalled visibility all-round the Semi, aided further by the driver-forward position the Semi can offer thanks to its lack of a monstrous oiler up front. The controls are a little foreign to the average trucker too, as the central seating position is flanked by two large touchscreens that control all of the Semi’s functions.
The Semi, just like Tesla’s existing fleet of passenger cars, will offer semi-autonomous driving capability when it hits the market in 2020. The semi-auto Semi’s already received several bookings, each costing US$5,000, though we remain skeptical about Tesla’s ability to roll them out given the “production hell” that they’re still presently in with the Model 3 saloon.